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Wafer manufacturing giants tape out a new, larger wafer platform for the future.

Three major players in integrated circuit manufacturing -- Samsung Electronics, Intel Corporation, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (TSMC) -- have made the announcement of an agreement for a new, even larger wafer production standard. The current wafer plants crank out 300mm discs, but going forward, the three companies feel that the need for another graduation in area is necessary. They will also work with International Sematech to insure a viable set of standards for the new wafers.

Though TSMC, the world's largest semiconductor manufacturer, has recently entered into an agreement with two other Taiwanese chip makers to build $14.7 billion worth of new 300mm fabs, the idea of further progress and efficiency for the future has not been brushed aside. Moving from the current 300mm to the planned 450mm platters will save more money, more energy and cause less pollution overall, as well as allow the industry to pile more microchips into a single wafer.

The last standards change for wafer manufacturing was in 2001, when production was transitioned from the 1991-originated 200mm to the present 300mm discs. The trio plan to have the new standard and fabs online by 2012, making the transitions nearly a decade apart each.

Not only will the larger wafers allow manufacturers more overall efficiency in the fabs, with the ever-falling footprint of transistors, almost exponentially more microchips should come from each wafer. Intel recently moved from a 65nm to 45nm architecture, while TSMC moved its chips from 65nm to 40nm. Further gains will no doubt be made by the time the 450mm fabs go live, further enabling what looks like will become a multi-core revolution in the near future.

The three companies are hoping to create a smooth transition to the new wafers by working together on the new standards. The overall attitude is that the change is necessary to keep the industry efficient and profitable.  Not only will it benefit them in the future, sharing the cost of research and development will certainly keep their accountants happier until then.

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Rock on!
By amanojaku on 5/7/2008 9:29:04 AM , Rating: 5
Moving from the current 300mm to the planned 450mm platters will save more money, more energy and cause less pollution overall, as well as allow the industry to pile more microchips into a single wafer.

If this is true (and I don't see why not) then everyone wins. Sometimes it's the simple things that make the biggest impact!

RE: Rock on!
By MrBlastman on 5/7/2008 9:33:03 AM , Rating: 5
I bet the guys in the plants are cheering.

Now they have even BIGGER frisbee's to play with!

RE: Rock on!
By ChipDude on 5/7/2008 10:11:46 AM , Rating: 4
Actually not, this will cut the number of factories each company needs, 450mm wafers doubles output and where you needed 4 fabs you'll now only need two. Remember each time you shrink a generation you double the output. Thus the first 450mm node your output quadrubles for the same number of fabs. INTEL will have have the number of fab workers

RE: Rock on!
By imperator3733 on 5/7/2008 1:23:17 PM , Rating: 4
...or they could keep the same number of fabs and just make more chips and/or larger chips.

RE: Rock on!
By Diesel Donkey on 5/7/2008 1:43:05 PM , Rating: 2
What if they start making chips that lump 8 cores instead of 2 or 4? Perhaps it will all even out.

RE: Rock on!
By djc208 on 5/7/2008 3:10:25 PM , Rating: 4
I would think the old fabs would move to other devices. A 45nm fab based on 300mm wafers will still make perfectly good MB chipsets, or any host of "other" chips lurking in computers and electronics.

It's not like they will stop making the 300mm wafers, they're just agreeing on the upgrade path.

RE: Rock on!
By afkrotch on 5/7/2008 4:40:17 PM , Rating: 2
I'd say that's on the ball. They'd just keep chugging out whatever it was they were before, until they can spend the billions of dollars to retool the plant.

Your 45nm plants making current procs, 65nm making chipsets, 90nm being retooled to 32nm or 45nm. Just standard rotation cycle for plant upgrades.

Only time you see a fab shutdown is cause it's cheaper in the long run to shut it down and reopen it elsewhere. Usually another country.

But a company like Intel has so many products it creates, that more fabs is usually a good thing.

RE: Rock on!
By wordsworm on 5/7/2008 9:48:06 PM , Rating: 2
INTEL will have have the number of fab workers

It's hard to say. In any case, I fully expect their new Atom processors and its descendants to occupy.

Furthermore, the need for more processors in the near future will always challenge suppliers to keep up with demand. Cars, buildings, appliances (fridges, stoves), and probably a plethora of other products will demand a significant amount of processing power. I'm willing to bet that in the next 5 years we'll see that you can no more buy a cookie cutter house without an embedded computer running everything from solar arrays to regulating power consumption, etc, than you can buy a car without one.

RE: Rock on!
By dever on 5/9/2008 3:05:40 PM , Rating: 2
By this logic, Intel should have a tiny fraction of the employees that it had 20, 30 or 40 years ago. However, it is possible that technological increase could decrease employment... but this typically occurs in competing and inferior technologies (the "buggy whip" syndrome).

People seem to fear advances in technology for some reason. I think one of the biggest factors is the belief in a zero sum game. That increases in one area mandate cuts in another. A brief look at the last couple of centuries will show how wealth is actually created over time, and is not static.

RE: Rock on!
By omnicronx on 5/7/2008 9:56:47 AM , Rating: 2
more energy and cause less pollution overall, as well as allow the industry to pile more microchips into a single wafer.
Would this not lower efficiency though too?

RE: Rock on!
By MrBlastman on 5/7/2008 10:03:50 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think it would, but instead increase it due to it probably taking just as long to break apart a 300 mm board vs. a 450 mm board.

You'd have less boards to break apart in the same amount of time, thus leading to a higher volume of overall chips because you can squeeze more in to the same batch.

That is just a theory - I don't know anything at all about microprocessor plants.

RE: Rock on!
By masher2 on 5/7/2008 10:12:11 AM , Rating: 5
You also reduce waste around the edge of the wafer, as a larger circle has a smaller percentage of its total area lost to curvature.

RE: Rock on!
By omnicronx on 5/7/2008 10:20:24 AM , Rating: 2
How is it a smaller percentage of area lost? Wouldnt the ratio stay the same. I think I may need a coffee.. or more school..

RE: Rock on!
By masher2 on 5/7/2008 10:31:11 AM , Rating: 3
I doubt you need more school; I simply didn't phrase myself clearly enough. The objective in wafer fabrication is to cover a circle with a "carpet" of smaller squares. The squares themselves are the individual chip dice, and are independent of the circle size.

Obviously the larger the circle, the more of these smaller squares one can cut from it. But a larger circle also loses a smaller percentage of its total area to waste, as surface area grows by the square of the radius, whereas circumference grows linearly, i.e. the portion along the edge that's not large enough for a full square grows slower than the total area of the wafer itself.

RE: Rock on!
By Ajax9000 on 5/7/2008 8:45:28 PM , Rating: 2
A good visual example of wastage using large digial camera sensors.

RE: Rock on!
By eye smite on 5/7/2008 10:05:20 AM , Rating: 1
I'm betting their process has been refined to the point where little or no efficiency loss will be noticed, but that's a speculation. It's just interesting that they're working on this aspect of the whole process now instead of just the chips they make and how to refine them. We'll just have to see what this all yields.

RE: Rock on!
By 16nm on 5/7/2008 11:02:55 AM , Rating: 2
everyone wins

Except AMD. They just recently transitioned to 300mm!

RE: Rock on!
By FITCamaro on 5/7/2008 11:43:48 AM , Rating: 3
While they hadn't done it in 2001, I believe AMD finished their 300mm transition a few years ago. But yes, it likely will be a while before they transition to 450mm wafers.

RE: Rock on!
By imperator3733 on 5/7/2008 1:26:51 PM , Rating: 2
I think AMD transitioned to 300mm with their 90nm chips (K8 rev D/E).

RE: Rock on!
By afkrotch on 5/7/2008 4:43:50 PM , Rating: 2
Doesn't AMD go through TSMC for some of their chip production? So they would win, if this were the case.

RE: Rock on!
By daInvincibleGama on 5/7/2008 10:32:11 PM , Rating: 2
AMD fabs its owm chips, just like Intel. That's why they just recently transitioned to 300mm SOI (I think).

"If you look at the last five years, if you look at what major innovations have occurred in computing technology, every single one of them came from AMD. Not a single innovation came from Intel." -- AMD CEO Hector Ruiz in 2007

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